SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s 81-63 win over Washington State Saturday night in the Huntsman Center was laced with accomplishments.
The Utes (16-7, 5-6) not only avenged an embarrassing 49-46 loss to the Cougars (9-13, 2-8) last month in Pullman, Wash., they also assured themselves of securing the program’s first non-losing season since the 2008-09 squad that won a Mountain West Conference championship.
“For us to be part of a team doing something like that is just a good thing for us,” said guard Brandon Taylor. “It’s definitely a confidence-builder. We’re trying to build a new legacy. We’re trying to go down in history sometime, you know.”
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak acknowledged it’s a positive thing, but not much else — noting that there were teams in the preseason that the Utes should have and ultimately did defeat.
“It’s a good point,” he said. “I think, for us, the main point we’re focusing on is trying to get out on the road and win some games, start playing our best basketball at the right time of the year. That’s the most important thing to me rather than the number of wins or losses that we have.”
In addition to reaching the milestone of sorts, Utah completed a sweep of the Washington schools this week — winning two straight after a three-game skid.
The Utes capped things off convincingly and quickly. They led from start to finish — jumping out to a 5-0 advantage while the Cougars missed their first four shots.
Utah’s lead swelled to 23-12 on a layup by Princeton Onwas with 8:11 remaining in the half. Just less than seven minutes later, the margin grew to 40-20 on a basket by Taylor.
At halftime, Utah held a 42-26 lead. The Utes had eight players score and seven grab rebounds in a balanced attack. They shot 56.7 percent (17 of 30) from the field while holding Washington State to 34.5 percent (10 of 29) shooting.
Things tightened up a bit after the break as the Cougars cut the deficit to nine points on two occasions midway through the second half. The Utes, though, regained a double-digit lead for good after a 3-pointer by Taylor ushered in a 7-2 run that warded off the last threat.
Utah went on to lead by as many as 22 points before the game was complete.
“It just felt good not to have a let-down at the start of the game and then to continue on,” said Utah forward Jordan Loveridge. “Our defense and our offense, we just kept building on it.”
Taylor led the Utes with 16 points. Loveridge finished with 13, while Delon Wright added 11 along with nine assists. Jeremy Olsen, Dallin Bachynski and Onwas scored 10 points apiece.
“I think it was a good all-around game night. Everyone came in and the energy was up,” Taylor said. “Everyone chipped in and everyone just did their part.”
Washington State coach Ken Bone also had good things to say about the Utes’ performance.
“I think Utah deserves a lot of the credit. They played a very good game. I love their energy and toughness on the defensive end,” Bone said. “On the offensive end, they executed and hit 3s. They were very hard to stop on the defensive end. They scored very well against us tonight.”
The Utes were especially effective in the paint, where they outscored the Cougars 42-18. A 10-0 advantage in fast break points also assisted the effort.
“I thought we got out and finished pretty well in transition,” Krystkowiak said before discussing the next task at hand.
Utah travels to Los Angeles next week for games at USC on Thursday and at UCLA on Saturday. The Utes do so with an 11-game losing streak on opposing team’s home floors, including 10 straight in conference play.
“We need to get some positive performances on the road,” Krystkowiak said. “That's what's going to be key down the stretch.”
Utah has seven games remaining before next month’s Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas.
After the trip to USC and UCLA, the Utes return home to face Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado. They’ll close out the regular season with games at California and Stanford.